E Magazine

Is the Environment to Blame for the Rise in Autism Cases?

Autism cases are on the rise. Or so the most recent data would have us believe. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 1 in 100 children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) -- up from 1 in 150 in 2007. A study in the journal Pediatrics in October 2009 revealed similar numbers -- parents of 1 in 90 children reported that their child had ASD. With boys, the rate of ASD was 1 in 58. Without a doubt, autism is the country's fastest-growing developmental disability, affecting more children than cancer, diabetes and AIDS combined. Still, in dealing with a childhood disorder that ranges from "highly functioning" to uncommunicative, and such a long list of potential triggers and treatments, even the numbers themselves are subject to questioning.

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Why the End May Be Coming for Coal

Patrick O'Hara, who works next door to a coal-burning power plant in Chicago, was recently diagnosed with asthmatic bronchitis brought on, he believes, by breathing in pollution from the plant. So, when he heard about a mass protest to demand action on global warming, O'Hara boarded a train for Washington, D.C., and joined thousands of people who marched around the coal-burning power plant that supplies energy to the U.S. Capitol.

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How an Entire Town Leveled By a Tornado Is Rebuilding Green

On May 4, 2007, an EF5 tornado cut a 1.7-mile path of destruction through Greensburg, Kansas. Winds reaching speeds of 205 miles per hour uprooted trees, demolished homes and leveled the town. Eleven people died and 95% of the buildings were destroyed beyond repair.

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Is Trying to Eat Healthy Making You Sick?

In a country where 34% of the population is obese, where 2,500 people die every day of heart disease and more than half a million perish of cancer each year, cultivating an unhealthy focus on healthy eating seems impossible. Yet some are so fixated on purifying their bodies that they make themselves sick in the process. It's a condition known as orthorexia nervosa.

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Selling Tap Water in New York to Help Provide Clean Water in Developing Countries

Challenged to create a brand out of "nothing" by Esquire magazine, David Droga of New York ad agency Droga5 envisioned the Tap Project. The concept was simple, but the scope huge: charge New York City diners a dollar for their glasses of tap water during one week in March (dubbed "World Water Week") and give that money to UNICEF to help provide access to clean drinking water around the world. Ads for the Tap Project, launched in 2007 with 300 New York restaurants, showed tap water as a prestige beverage in designer bottles. After all, one billion people around the world do not have access to the "luxury" of clean drinking water. "All of us take for granted the ability to get clean water through the tap," says Kim Pucci, marketing director for U.S. Funds for UNICEF. Asked about bottled water companies' claims that cast doubt on the safety of tap water, Pucci says, "We're staying out of the debate."

The Tap Project, which raised $100,000 its first year, expanded to more than a dozen cities this year and 2,300 restaurants.

The Project has a hip aura, with videos on YouTube, and celebrity endorsements from actors like Sarah Jessica Parker and Lucy Liu. It's UNICEF's most successful initiative to date, even surpassing the charitable response to the Southeast Asian tsunami.

Just $1 can supply 10.5 gallons of safe drinking water to one child (enough for 40 days worth of water for cooking, bathing and cleaning). The project's continued expansion--it aims to go worldwide next year--will help UNICEF reach its goal of halving the number of people without access to safe drinking water by 2015.

And other advertisers are challenging consumer ambivalence toward water, particularly in bottled form. Last year, Eric Yaverbaum of PR firm Ericho Communications and Mark DiMassimo of DiMassimoGoldstein (or DIGO) founded Tappening, a project pushing consumers to switch from bottled water to reusable bottles filled with tap water. They're selling their own refillables with messages like "Think global. Drink local."

Ski Resorts Are Reinventing Themselves in the Face of Global Warming

Marshall Heaven of Greenwich, Connecticut got tired of waiting for the snow to fall, so he bought two Backyard Blizzard snowmakers and can now promise 15-foot drifts as early as late November .... Even though it's late January in Mason Township, Maine, Steve Crone of New England Dogsledding tethers his eager canines to a golf cart. "We'd rather have snow," he says with some embarrassment ... Fifteen-year-old Cameron Sonley of Peterborough, Ontario, where the winter was two degrees warmer than usual in the 2006-2007 season, complained last March that because of high temperatures he was only able to go snowboarding four or five times, instead of his usual dozen .... In Staten Island, New York, skaters have been thwarted for three straight years as pond ice failed to thicken ... Janisse Ray, an outdoor recreation enthusiast in Danville, Vermont, got so frustrated when the West River hadn't frozen by last January that she donned a wetsuit and floated downstream in an inner tube, holding aloft a sign that said "Where's winter?"

Where indeed? Since 1970, average winter temperatures in New England have increased 4.4 degrees Fahrenheit. In the U.S., 2006 was the warmest year on record, and 1998 is number two. The last eight five-year periods were the warmest since we began taking national records 112 years ago. During the past 25 to 30 years, says the National Climatic Data Center, the warming trend has accelerated, from just over a tenth of one degree Fahrenheit per decade to almost a third of a degree.

By the end of the century, temperatures in the Northeastern states are likely to rise by eight to 12 degrees Fahrenheit (at which time snow-covered days will have been reduced to half of what we traditionally experience). A 2007 report from the Union of Concerned Scientists on the Northeast predicted that, under some higher-emission scenarios, "Only western Maine is projected to retain a reliable ski season by the end of the century, and only northern New Hampshire would support a snowmobiling season longer than two months." Warmer weather and changing precipitation will result in a fundamental change to winter recreation and what the report called "the winter landscape."

Our Changing Climate

When Nat "King" Cole sang about "Jack Frost nipping at your nose" and "folks dressed up like Eskimos" in 1946, a white Christmas was standard fare in many parts of America. But with today's milder winters, Jack Frost is not such a regular visitor and hats and gloves are spending more time in the closet.

The Hood Museum at Dartmouth College recently mounted a major exhibit of Inuit clothing, tools and art -- materials adapted to one of the coldest places on Earth. But the once-stable climate there is changing. The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment said in 2004 that Arctic temperatures are now rising at nearly twice the rate of the rest of the world (as much as 14 degrees Fahrenheit on average over the next 100 years), reducing sea ice and melting frozen soils. It's been widely reported that Alaska's polar bears are probably doomed by 2050, but the scale of this climatic shift will likely do much more -- completely changing the culture of the Arctic region.

Though there are still a few diehards, the overwhelming majority of scientists now believe that climate change is at least partly responsible for our steadily rising thermometers. Obviously, global warming science is complex and hardly monolithic -- some parts of the world continue to experience very cold temperatures and record snowfalls, just as the climate models say they will. You might even be reading this as a blizzard fulfills the promise of a white winter. But the overwhelming trend is clear: it's getting warmer, and winter is losing force, intensity and duration, changing America's ingrained habits in the process. If you've ever enjoyed ice skating, sledding, skiing, snowboarding or building a snowman, you should know that the future of these enshrined institutions is by no means guaranteed.

In the film Lucky Numbers, John Travolta plays a local weatherman who has it all, including a lucrative snowmobile franchise. Unfortunately, the winter season fails to deliver any snow, so the dealership goes bankrupt. That was fiction, but the Boston Globe recently reported on the real-life closing of Kingdom Cat, a dealership in northerly Island Pond, the "snowmobile capital of Vermont." After several years of little snow and 30 machines left in inventory, owner Bob Halpin decided to call it a day. "The winters have gotten progressively worse," he said. "We decided to cut our losses."

The closing of a northern Vermont snowmobile dealership is hardly an isolated incident. In 2006, major snowmobile manufacturer Polaris had 40 percent lower sales than in 2005. In the U.S., sales for the fiscal year ending last March 31 were down 12 percent from the previous year, reports the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association (ISMA) in Michigan. Total sales of 79,814 in 2006 contrasted sharply with the 170,325 sold in 1997.

"If it doesn't snow, people don't downhill ski, they don't cross-country ski and, guess what, they don't snowmobile either," says Ed Klem executive director of ISMA. Snowmaking isn't an option when the typical Upper Peninsula, Michigan snowmobiler covers 100 miles of trail in a day. "The lack of snow is the highest barrier to entry [into snowmobiling] because consumers don't want to spend $6,000 on a sled unless they're going to use it," Klem says. Many snowmobile manufacturers are saved by the fact that they also make all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), whose sales are steady.

Klem adds that snowmobile sales are, however, up two percent in still-frigid Canada, and have enjoyed double-digit growth for six years in Russia, where the sport is new, disposable income is abundant, and snow still covers the slopes.

Skiing Into Trouble

According to the Concord Monitor in a rather poetic editorial, last winter the New Hampshire woods were filled with "rain instead of snow, open water instead of frozen lakes, the chatter of red squirrels scolding and rustle of dry leaves replaced the icy 'pop' of freezing tree sap." The paper continued, "While black bears continued to rattle birdfeeders and geese and ducks were reported flying north over open water on some rivers, we all knew winter wouldn't remain a no-show so much as a late arrival."

Among the effects, the Monitor said, are native trees damaged and amphibians killed by early thaw-and-freeze cycles. "There may be reason for new concern if current trends for extreme winter temperature fluctuations continue," the paper said.

These changes are not without major effects on the state's economy. Cliff Brown, an associate professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire, notes that the state had 65 downhill ski areas in the 1970s, but only 20 remain. New Hampshire winters warmed 3.8 degrees Fahrenheit in the 20th century, and snowmaking alone hasn't saved the day, especially for the low-lying family facilities. The surviving resorts, Brown says, are larger, tend to be corporate owned, and are located at higher elevations.

To stay in business, the resorts have also diversified from skiing. "They've been very successful at adapting to changing climate patterns, which means year-round activities," Brown says. "That's why you get the water parks, conference centers and condos. There are only so many good skiing days now. The resorts get 30 percent of their skiing revenue from just 10 percent of available days."

On a recent fall day, the lower slopes at Bromley Mountain in southern Vermont looked more like an amusement park than a ski area. It's now known as "Vermont's sun and fun park," with a "Thrill Zone" (alpine slide, miniature golf, climbing wall, bumper boats and an adrenaline-pumping zipline) helping generate revenues well into September.

To lure people in, they host bluegrass concerts, magic shows and even ventriloquists. Like most state ski resorts, Bromley has had to reinvent itself as a summer destination, and the strategy is working. Skiing attendance (which peaked in the mid-80s) is now at 120,000 annually, but an additional 55,000 to 70,000 come for fair weather fun.

"The last couple of years have not been good for skiing," says spokesman Peter Dee. "We usually try to be open by Thanksgiving, but now we're looking at the eighth or ninth of December." Snow guns can cover 85 percent of the mountain, but if temperatures stay above freezing even that option is not available.

Dee adds that snowmaking was once an "insurance policy" for ski areas, but now it's a necessity. At Bromley and other Vermont destinations, the snowmaking starts in late October and continues until late March. But snowmaking has limitations, because if skiers don't see snow in their backyards, they're likely to just stay at home. "If there's no snow in Westchester, New York, the perception is that there's also no snow in Vermont," Dee says. It's not surprising, then, that ski area websites devote so much space to reports from the slopes and offer detailed weather reports.

The Northwestern glaciers once described as "America's Alps" have lost 30 percent of their size in the last century. All of the North Cascades glaciers are receding. "As diehard skiers and snowboarders, we think winter is already too short," said Sustainable Summits, a group of lodge owners in a recent appeal to Congress to do something about global warming.

Analysts are worried about the fate of ski resorts at lower elevations, which stand to experience considerably less snow than their counterparts in, say, the Colorado mountains. Since it was announced in 2000, 184 ski areas around the country (collectively a $5 billion annual business) adopted the Environmental Charter to raise policymaker awareness of the "dependence of winter sports on natural ecosystems," to call for greenhouse gas reductions, and to support science-based solutions to climate change.

The ski areas acted on dire projections, including one for the Rocky Mountain West that showed up to 70 percent snowpack loss by 2050. In 2005, there was already a 78 percent drop in skier visits to the region. By 2085, a 2006 Colorado College report says, the county could lose 82 percent of its snowpack.

At Aspen Skiing Company, operators say temperatures have gone up so much that their snowmaking machines are operating at the limit -- another degree or two warmer and they'd be unable to produce it at all. "We often make snow within one degree, or one and a half degrees, of being able to," said former CEO Patrick O'Donnell. "If we can't make snow, we have a problem."

A study done by Aspen's town government, part of the Canary Initiative, predicted that Aspen's climate will eventually mirror that of Amarillo, Texas. In the short run, higher-elevation resorts such as those in the Rockies may experience greater snowfall, but longer droughts could cancel any positive effects.

To counter warming winters, Aspen has inaugurated environmental reforms -- using biodiesel fuel in its snow cats, running Coke machine compressors on motion detectors, using local ponds as thermal exchangers in place of air conditioning, contributing to the Aspen Valley Land Trust to preserve open space. In 2007, the company spent half its national advertising budget on a global warming call to action. The National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) has launched a "Keep Winter Cool" campaign. "Stop Global Warming or the Snowman Gets It" is the catchy slogan.

Other resorts are taking similar measures. Last August, Jiminy Peak Resort in Massachusetts installed a 386-foot-tall, 1.5-megawatt wind turbine, becoming the first ski resort to make its own electricity. Tim and Diane Mueller, owners of Okemo Mountain in Vermont, Mount Sunapee in New Hampshire and Crested Butte Mountain in Colorado, are purchasing enough renewable wind energy credits through Sterling Planet to offset the annual electric use of all three of their resorts. And those electric bills are going up sharply, because snowmaking is so energy-intensive. It uses a lot of water, too, so resorts are now building their own reservoirs to avoid depleting naturally existing streams and lakes.

In Europe, vulnerable ski runs on Swiss and Austrian glaciers are being wrapped with $70,000-a-sheet strips of white fleece the size of football fields, and some ski areas are being "repurposed" as mountain biking destinations. The European Environmental Agency (EEA) and the UN have both reported that the Alps are the mountains most severely affected by global warming.

The EEA says that 75 percent of the Swiss Alps' glaciers will be gone by 2050. Turin, Italy hosted the Winter Olympics in 1996, but the ongoing loss of snow cover makes it an open question if it will ever host another. The Turin Olympic Organizing Committee launched its own climate initiatives which have continued after the games, but there are serious challenges.

The growing popularity of snowboarding has brought a whole new generation onto the slopes, and in some ways their presence is making up for the skiing reversals. But snowboarding is hurting, too. The Homestead in Hot Springs, Virginia had to close its snowboarding park last year because it couldn't make enough snow for both the slopes and the park. The ski runs were the first priority, and some nights it just didn't get cold enough (40 degrees Fahrenheit or below) to make snow.

When it fails to snow, it's not just ski resorts that suffer. Bob McKnight is chairman and CEO of Quiksilver, which makes sports-related clothes and equipment (including skis and snowboards, through its 2005 purchase of the French Rossignol brand).

"There's no question that our near-term progress has been dramatically affected by a very tough winter for the snow business," he said in a conference call last March. "I think that anyone in the snow industry can tell you that this was, both here in the U.S. and, to a larger extent, in Europe, the worst season in the past several decades. The lack of snow kept many resorts closed and greatly reduced the number of skier days, undercutting the consumer's drive to purchase new equipment." Worldwide, McKnight said, there has been a five to 15 percent decline in snowboard sales, a 10 to 20 percent decline in alpine skis and a 20 to 30 percent decline in cross-country skis.

Given all this, it's not surprising that environmentally themed mountain sportswear company Patagonia is making changes. "We're getting into the surf market because it's never going to snow again, and the waves are going to get bigger and bigger," says Yvon Chouinard, the company's owner. The first Patagonia watersports shop, selling Earth-friendly surfboards and (non-petroleum) wetsuits, opened in California last year. The Sap's not Flowing

Northern New England's climate was once ideal for maple sugaring, but as temperatures rise the industry is inexorably migrating north. Over the past four decades, the traditional mid-February to April maple sugaring season has slowly gotten shorter. According to a University of Vermont study, it now starts a week early and ends 10 days early, with a net loss of three production days. And tappers are getting worried. Tom McCrumm of the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association is just one long-time tapper who worries that, by 2100, there may no longer be a maple sugar industry in New England.

Maple sugaring depends on a delicately balanced freeze-thaw cycle. For sap to form, tappers say, trees have to absorb water from the soil on cold nights when temperatures dip below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. When it warms up during the day, the sap flows and can be caught by sugar tappers who bore holes in the trees. When the cold nights fail to materialize the trees begin to form buds, and the sap turns bitter and unusable for syrup.

Last January, Massachusetts experienced 70-degree days, which sent trees into an early bud cycle and resulted in half the syrup yield. Things are likely to get much worse in northern New England, with a six to 10-degree Fahrenheit rise predicted over the next century.

Canada's maple syrup production has tripled since the 1970s. The University of Vermont's Proctor Maple Research Center says that the U.S. produced 80 percent of the world's maple syrup up through the 1940s, but now produces only 15 percent. Today, Canada, not Vermont, is the world leader, with 85 percent of the world's syrup (7.4 million gallons in 2006).

There are factors other than climate involved; Canada heavily subsidizes its maple sugar industry, for instance. According to Tim Perkins of the Proctor Center, Canadian tappers can get very low-cost leases to produce maple syrup on government-owned land in Quebec, an option not readily available in the U.S. Canadians have also benefited from more moderate snowfalls, which makes it easier to get to the trees to harvest sap.

The shorter tapping season has not yet impacted U.S. production, which is holding at 400,000 to 500,000 gallons a year. Perkins says that more efficient production methods -- particularly tubing-based systems replacing the more labor-intensive buckets -- has allowed Vermont producers to hold their own against what would otherwise be a climate-related loss.

Richard Lockerby, who grew up on a farm near Grafton, Vermont and now lives in Chester, has been making maple syrup his whole life. Since he got serious about it in 1990 he's won a wall full of prizes, including the "World's Best Maple Syrup" award in 1995. In a good year, Lockerby produces 325 gallons of syrup, but 2006 was not a good year and he made only 120 gallons. The freeze-thaw balance needed for making syrup was off, first because temperatures were too warm and then too cold. "By the time the snow was starting to melt, it was already very late for sugaring," he says.

In 2007, Vermont went through a very long summer, which helped ski areas bring in seasonal tourists but may augur another slow year for syrup. "The dryness affects the maple trees, because if they don't take moisture in they can't let it out later as sap," Lockerby says.

Jim Ameden's family has been making maple syrup in Vermont for so long that nobody can remember when the business began. Today, he operates a spacious and well-appointed sugarhouse in Londonderry, Vermont with his wife, Josie. Although the Amedens, who double as organic hay farmers, managed a respectable 300-gallon production year in 2006, their long-term outlook is decidedly gloomy thanks to global warming predictions.

Jim Ameden says he's experiencing the shorter -- and earlier -- season in his own business. "It used to be the middle of March to the end of April, but for the past six to eight years we've gotten started in February and ended before April," he says. "Losing two or three days may not sound significant, but it is when there are only 15 or 16 days for us to do our boiling."

Even more ominously, Jim Ameden says he's noticed the gradual dieback of indigenous maple trees, and the appearance in their place of oak saplings, a onetime rarity in his corner of Vermont. "The maples are moving further north, so I think Canada will end up making even more of the syrup," he says.

Josie Ameden enjoys the family enterprise, but she's concluded it's probably on borrowed time. "I think maple syrup making will be gone in Vermont," she says. "Sugaring will become a thing of the past." The family's emerging environmental convictions led them to buy a Toyota Prius hybrid car.

The changing climate calls into question the viability of the entire industry. "As we lessen the number of freeze-thaw cycles, and shorten the production period, we're going to have increasing difficulty in keeping yields up enough to sustain a commercial industry," Perkins says. And he adds that the syrup economy is bigger than the tappers themselves: Syrup-making equipment is also made in Vermont, and the industry provides a great deal of seasonal employment, as well as encouraging tourism.

The long-term picture is not encouraging, even for Canada. Jay Malcolm, a University of Toronto climate change expert, says that Canada's maple sugar boom may not last because sugar maple trees could move northward too quickly. Maple sugar production, he told a UN conference on global warming, could be "significantly reduced" in Canada as a result over the next 35 to 40 years. And even as conditions are briefly ideal for maple sugar, they will start to become untenable for key species such as Atlantic salmon, soft-shelled clams, deep-sea scallops and blue mussels.


The warming changes already visible are, to cite a particularly apt cliché, "the tip of the iceberg." In the next few decades, global warming will be shaped by many different factors, with relatively unpredictable results. But the scientific consensus is near-unanimous that the loss of predictable and comforting winter patterns will be a major consequence. Nostalgia for snowy winters past and "the way it was" (see companion story) will be a major growth industry, even as skiing, skating, snowmen-building and maple syrup-making gradually recede in our collective memory.

Can Green Jobs Save the American Middle Class?

The American middle class -- of which some 80 percent of Americans claim to be a part -- is getting anxious. While there is no carved-in-stone edict about what it means to be middle class, it's the term that Americans hang their dreams on.

It suggests earning enough to get by without struggling; being able to afford health care, college costs and the occasional trip to Disney World. The middle-class ideal is tied to earning power, and it's there that confidence is eroding. Over the last five years, while most workers' incomes have increased slowly or not at all, costs have reached record levels. Housing costs are up 23 percent, college costs up 44 percent and health insurance costs up 71 percent.

And while the traditional economic outlook is bleak, the green economy is taking shape, bringing with it the promise of well-paying manufacturing jobs; of management and sales opportunities with huge growth potential and lots of niche positions for enterprising students and job seekers looking for alternative careers. On the upper tiers of the economic ladder, many CEOs and CFOs are already jumping into green jobs, and online green job directories are heavy with listings for those with established business experience.

What remains to be seen is if the career ladders appearing in every sector, from green building to organic farming, solar installation and sustainable marketing, are available to all or to a select few. With the momentum behind environmental issues, Congress, spurred by advocacy organizations such as the Apollo Alliance and the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, is responding with legislation that could ensure a place for America's disadvantaged and disenfranchised in the new green economy. For that to happen, the House version of the new energy legislation -- spearheaded by Hilda Solis (D-CA) and John Tierney (D-MA) -- has to make it through Congress and past President George W. Bush's threatened veto.

The Green Jobs Act, which passed the House as part of the Energy Bill last August with a vote of 241 to 172, contains specific language about using the green economy as a "pathway out of poverty." Of the $125 million that would be set aside for job training in renewable energy, energy-efficient vehicles and green building, $25 million of that would be earmarked specifically for those most difficult to hire: at-risk youths, former inmates and welfare recipients. The Energy Savings Act of 2007 sponsored by Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and Hilary Clinton (D-NY) in the Senate allows for $100 million in training for "green-collar jobs," but is not geared specifically toward low-income Americans.

That, says Van Jones, president of the Ella Baker Center, is a critical difference. "There's this whole invisible infrastructure trying to get people who need jobs connected with work," says Jones. "There are vocational training centers, return-from-prison work centers, community colleges. But none of that infrastructure is pointed at the green economy. There are a lot of 'certificate factories' pointed at the pollution-based economy, and lots of people going to night school for jobs that aren't there any more."

The Green Jobs Act is a way of "repurposing our job training," says Jones. He testified before Congress in favor of the bill -- a national version of the Green Jobs Corps his organization established in Oakland, California -- and says the shortage of skilled workers throughout the renewable energy sector is already leading eco-entrepreneurs to hire their college buddies. But there's a larger issue at stake. Unless the green economy is designed to include America's urban youth, they are bound to be overlooked, shuffled back into the same low-wage, go-nowhere retail and fast food jobs with little opportunity for improvement.

"The work of saving the polar bears and poor kids is the same work," says Jones. "If we give the jobs to the people who most need them, we solve two problems."

Many say that $100 to $125 million is miniscule money for such a major economic transition. But the government's initial investment is only meant to be a launch pad, says Kevin Doyle, president of green consulting and training company Green Economy. "The federal government serves best as an innovative leader," he says. "Money from the private sector should be at least five times that much."

Companies taking the risk of implementing new, sustainable technologies won't be eager to bear the cost of training unskilled workers. And that incentive is needed, especially in the educational system, to create a workforce that's ready for the new economy. Until sustainable practices move from testing phase to the norm, as they have in green building, companies need a reason to make the switch. "All economic activity has to be financed," says Doyle. "There are no jobs without money." At the same time, he notes, "We are reaching the tipping point where cost incentives no longer have to come from some strange amalgam of tax incentives. Green is tipping into the mainstream."

Green on Top

The green economy has already opened doors for those in the upper echelon of the business world, the managers, directors, CEOs and CFOs.

"CEOs and senior-level people across a broad spectrum are entering the environmental field in droves," says Rona Fried, founder and president of SustainableBusiness.com which includes a "Green Dream Jobs" online directory. "They're saying 'I'm the CEO of an IT company and I want to put my skills to work for the environment. How do I make that transition?'"

As corporations build environmental strategy into their policy, partnering with nonprofits and responding more quickly to rising public concern for environmental issues, they need strong communicators. "Many companies have environmental managers that are now being upgraded in terms of status," says Dan Esty, director of the Center for Business and Environment at Yale University, and co-author of Green to Gold: How Smart Companies Use Environmental Strategy to Innovate, Create Value and Build Competitive Advantage. "To be a successful environmental manager, you need good analytic skills, to understand the environment in a business context -- as a core business strategy."

That's the advice Esty gives his Yale students: if they want to improve the environment, they should find ways to help companies tackle the issues that are important to them -- be it safe drinking water, less urban pollution or protecting the rainforest.

And the growing partnerships between corporations and environmental activist groups have created jobs on both sides of the aisle. Greenpeace and Coca-Cola are now collaborating on hydrofluorocarbon (HFC)- and chlorofluorocarbon (CFC)-free refrigeration equipment. Other high-profile partnerships include Chiquita and the Rainforest Alliance, which vastly improved that company's labor and environmental practices in Latin America; and McDonald's with (among others) Environmental Defense which led to the fast-food chain eliminating those wasteful Styrofoam containers. "There are many more jobs today focused at managing the business-environmental interface," says Esty.

The 300 largest corporations are in the initial stages of crafting a new social frontier, writes author Bruce Piasecki in World Inc. "Enlightened self-interest is what fuels the global equity culture, from the search for fuel cells and biofuels to new ways to package and new ways to power our economy, transportation and computing infrastructure," writes Piasecki, president and founder of consulting firm the American Hazard Control Group. "Business first seeks to sustain and further itself, but this revolution has the side benefit of being good for us all."

While green jobs are often touted as a way to create a solid American workforce, it's the installation and maintenance jobs in solar and wind that can't be outsourced. "The technology, where a big part of the upper money is...it's not at all clear the U.S. will win that game," says Doyle. "Right now there are a lot of technology companies in Spain, Japan and Switzerland."

Turning Blue Collars Green

But those in-country manufacturing jobs are not to be taken lightly. They represent a huge possibility for a new "green-collar" economy to restore a rapidly disintegrating American middle class. The 10 Midwestern states, ideally suited for wind energy development, could see nearly 37,000 new jobs by 2020, according to the Environmental Law and Policy Center, if the nation's renewable energy portfolio were set to 22 percent. According to a University of California at Berkeley study in 2004 (and updated in 2006), "Putting Renewables to Work: How Many Jobs Can the Clean Energy Industry Generate?" the renewable industry consistently produced more jobs per megawatt of electricity generated in construction, manufacturing, installation, operations and management and fuel processing than the fossil fuel industries. With a 20 percent national renewable energy standard that included 55 percent wind energy, that would equal 188,018 new jobs by 2020.

Kate Gordon, program director for the Apollo Alliance, a nonprofit working for American energy independence, says, "There's been a wholesale loss of manufacturing jobs, which are union-protected, highly skilled jobs. But with wind turbines, solar panels, energy-efficient retrofits -- there's a whole world of green jobs. It's pretty exciting if you can harness it."

Both recent college graduates and professionals looking to redirect their careers need to find ways to plug into this new green economy. As those pathways from conventional to green are still being laid, that's not always easy. But Doyle, who offers consulting and training for the new green economy, says there are two key strategies. One is to look at what skills are needed by all industries to solve environmental problems. All need information management and financing.

"So much starts with gathering huge amounts of data," Doyle says. This includes jobs in information technology, geography and statistics. And whether a nonprofit, a government agency or a business is looking to purchase open space, or evaluating smart growth versus sprawl, people are always needed to find funds. This opens up jobs like sector analysts, green accountants, government finance officers and foundation managers, among others.

The second strategy for green job seekers is to "pick a niche without any sense of ideological blinders," he says. Someone wanting to "fix" climate change would investigate the major sources of carbon emissions -- power plants, automobiles, gas flares -- and focus on finding solutions within these polluting industries.

People on the forefront of this rising green economy see enormous green growth potential within once-suspect corporate entities, from Wal-Mart to Starbucks. "At one point, five to 10 years ago, it was unusual to have an employee involved in corporate social responsibility," says Ted Ning, conference director of LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) and executive editor of the LOHAS Journal. "Now corporate social responsibility is a whole department for large corporations like Office Depot or Trader Joe's." Looking at the big picture, from corporate scandals to Hurricane Katrina to rising gas prices to the conservative ideology of the current administration, Ning says it's "a perfect storm -- people are fed up with what's typically given to them."

Of course, as savvy marketers have realized, the conscious consumer behind many of the fastest-growing green businesses, from eco-travel to organic food to hybrid cars and Fair Trade coffee, are as seduced by the comfort and social status of these items as by their reduced carbon footprint. "People don't have to sacrifice their lifestyle anymore," says Ning. "They don't have to wear burlap or eat sand."

Pharmaceuticals in Our Water Supply Are Causing Bizarre Mutations to Wildlife

From inter-sex fish in the Potomac River to frog mutations in Wisconsin, federal officials are spending this summer studying the effects of pharmaceuticals such as pain killers and depression medicine on the environment, because the drugs have turned up in America's drinking water.

The cumulative effect of trace amounts of pharmaceuticals and personal-care products in the water on humans isn't yet known, but the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is taking preventative measures. Pharmaceuticals have already been linked to behavioral and sexual mutations in fish, amphibians and birds, according to EPA studies.

Better sensors have revealed that trace amounts of pharmaceuticals, including narcotics, birth control, antidepressants and other controlled substances, are in the drinking water and in U.S. rivers, lakes and streams. The growing public debate on pharmaceuticals in water will heat up this summer as experts on both sideas of the issue try to convince the public that it's either much ado about nothing or another example of humans ignoring early warning signs such as deformed frogs -- the amphibian considered the canary in the coal mine when it comes to water issues.

The EPA suspects that part of the problem is consumers flushing old and unwanted drugs down toilets or drains. Americans are taking more drugs than ever -- especially the aging baby boomer generation. Pharmaceuticals were found in 80 percent of the samples taken during a U.S. Geological Survey and EPA study of 139 streams in 30 states. Many of America's wastewater treatment plants are not designed to remove pharmaceuticals and personal care products, the EPA says.

A 1999 (EPA and German) study of pharmaceutical and other personal-care products concluded the "undetectable effects on aquatic organisms are particularly worrisome because effects could accumulate so slowly that major change goes undetected until the cumulative level of these effects finally cascades to irreversible change -- change that would otherwise be attributed to natural adaptation or ecologic succession."

Meanwhile, federal officials continue to study the human health effects of the pharmaceutical compounds found in water known as endocrine disruptors, including possible links to neurological problems in children and increased incidence of some cancers. Federal officials are investigating a wide range of fish health problems in Cheasapeake Bay and its watershed. Several studies of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers have revealed inter-sex fish, a wide range of "abnormalities in which both male and female characteristics are present within the same fish."

The abnormalities include nine male smallmouth bass from the Potomac River near Sharpsburg, Maryland (about 60 miles upstream from Washington) that developed female eggs inside their sex organs. Inter-sex bass were also found in a study three years earlier, after fish kills about 170 miles upstream in the South Branch of the Potomac in Hardy County, West Virginia.

The suspected causes include "previously banned compounds…such as DDT and chlordane, natural and anthropogenic hormones, herbicides, fungicides, industrial chemicals and an emerging group of compounds that may act as endocrine disruptors," according to a 2006 summary of the various studies prepared by the U.S. Geological Survey. Other studies have linked endocrine disruptors to possible cancer in humans.

A recent survey of "cancer in Hardy County, where some residents get drinking water from the South Branch, found rates of cancer of the liver, gallbladder, ovaries and uterus that were higher than the state average," according to the Washington Post.

Officials are investigating whether there is a link between the increased cancer rates, river water and altered fish including the possible connection to wastewater discharges containing trace pharmaceuticals. This is disconcerting to residents of metro Washington, D.C., because the Potomac River is the main source (75 percent) of drinking water for 3.6 million residents, including the Maryland and Virginia suburbs.

Regulatory issues won't be tackled for years to come, but the EPA isn't waiting for more study results before taking action. The EPA is educating the public and funding pharmaceutical programs by concerned groups and state and local government agencies.

In the short term, numerous grassroots and government pharmaceutical collection projects have sprung up worldwide from police stations to pharmacies to church parking lots.

One of the larger efforts was held in April in northern Michigan. A coalition called the Earth Keepers opened 19 free drop-off sites over a 400-square-mile area, geographically the largest one-day pharmaceutical collection in U.S. history. Funded by the EPA, Thrivent Financial and others, the faith-based collection involved 400 volunteers from more than 140 churches and temples, university students, an American Indian tribe and two nonprofit environmental groups.

The nonprofit Superior Water-shed Partnership arranged the technical side of the collection including law enforcement officers and pharmacists at all collection sites because of strictly enforced federal laws governing controlled substances with po-tential for abuse like narcotic pain medicine.

"The Earth Keeper network is one of the most effective tools for addressing Great Lakes pollution," said Carl Lind-quist, director of the Superior Watershed Partnership. "The pharmaceutical collection was a proactive approach to a serious environmental issue that is just getting national attention."

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the American Pharmacists Association recently launched "SMARxT DisPOSAL," a public education project about pharmaceuticals and fish that includes a traveling awareness show, brochures and a website for consumers and health professionals. The campaign will visit select U.S. cities this fall and be expanded in 2008.

Studies show that pharmaceuticals in the environment break down fairly quickly but get replenished at an alarming rate because of increased American drug use. America's huge healthcare network is addressing the problem of improperly disposed pharmaceuticals by education and "green chemistry" -- encouraging drug companies to develop medications that break down more quickly.

Hospitals for a Healthy Environment (H2E) held a pharmaceutical waste management summit in May for its members including 1,600 hospitals that run 4,000 clinics and long-term care facilities. Hazardous chemical incinerators are used by many hospitals to dispose of unused pharmaceuticals. Industry experts say these incinerators have scrubbers and are closely monitored, yet incineration of medical waste "is highly problematic" and other solutions are needed.

"Incinerators are not the solution, but we knew we had to get pharmaceuticals out of sewers because waste water treatment plants are not capturing it," says Laura Brannen, H2E executive director. Green chemistry and a careful reduction in the amount of pharmaceuticals used by hospitals are among the "lifecycle approach" to solutions that Brannen supports.

Hazardous chemical waste management is heavily regulated, but pharmaceutical cleanup hasn't kept pace, according to H2E. "The current EPA regulations were designed to handle 55 gallon drums of chemicals out of industries," Brannen says. "The EPA needs to reassess their regulations ... they [haven't] updated the list of hazardous chemicals in pharmaceuticals in over 20 years. We must address the source -- using less and making what we do use as environmentally preferable as possible. If we are only dealing with the pharmaceutical waste at the back door we are going to be buried."

In communities without pharmaceutical collection programs, the EPA is also concerned about diversion -- unused drugs being stolen out of trash cans. They recommend crushing pills or capsules and mixing the drugs with cat litter or coffee grounds. The recreational use of prescription medicines is now the second worst drug problem facing American teenagers, according to the White House Office of National Dug Control Policy.

The White House says 6.4 million Americans admit abusing prescription drugs and most say they got the pharmaceuticals from friends or relatives. Pharmaceutical collections are one of several tools being used to reduce the problem by 15 percent over three years.

"While EPA continues to research the effects of pharmaceuticals in water sources, one thing is clear: improper drug disposal is a prescription for environmental and societal concern," says EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson. "Following these new guidelines will protect our nation's waterways and keep pharmaceuticals out of the hands of potential abusers."

Editors: If you are interested in reprinting this article, please contact Featurewell at: featurewell@gmail.com/212-924-2283.

Is Fear About Climate Change Causing a Nuclear Renaissance?

Sitting in the belly of the beast -- Dominion's 2,000-megawatt Millstone nuclear power plant in Waterford, Connecticut -- the company's chief nuclear officer, Dave Christian, seems an unlikely environmentalist. But he says concern about climate change is what got him involved in the peaceful pursuit of the atom in the first place.

"I started studying climate science in the 1970s after reading a book [published in 1974] entitled Technology, Society and Man by Richard C. Dorf," Christian says. "It was a very thoughtful study of the feedback mechanisms that go into global warming."

Dominion is the kind of big power player that has long had an antagonistic relationship with the environmental movement. In addition to Millstone Units 2 and 3 (Unit 1 was shut down in 1998), the $45 billion company operates two nukes in Virginia, owns 7,900 miles of interstate natural gas pipelines, 6,000 miles of electrical transmission lines and 965 billion cubic feet of underground natural gas storage.

The case for Dominion as a friend of the Earth is based on a few simple facts: It generates 45 percent of Connecticut's electricity and 30 percent of Virginia's without taking a huge toll in smokestack-emitted global warming gas.

In fact, there are no smokestacks, because (aside from the occasional release of radioactive material) the only thing nuclear power plants vent is steam. What's more, in contrast to the modest current capacity of wind and solar power, nukes can produce very large amounts of electricity -- enough to counter global warming by taking highly polluting coal-burning plants offline even as electricity demand increases.

Nuclear advocates will be the first to tell you that their U.S. plants avoid the emission of almost 700 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. Worldwide, it's two billion metric tons. Given this reality, some prominent environmentalists have signaled a cautious détente with the nuclear power industry.

While stopping short of endorsing the Bush Administration's push for hundreds of new nukes in the U.S., they say that nuclear power merits reconsideration. But they're being met by equally powerful arguments from the scientific community that nuclear power has never been and never will be a solution to global warming.

The Big Push

As worldwide emissions soar, people wait for a white knight. Newsweek columnist Robert J. Samuelson wrote recently, "We Americans want it all: endless and secure energy supplies; low prices; no pollution; less global warming; no new power plants (or oil and gas drilling, either) near people or pristine places. This is a wonderful wish list, whose only shortcoming is the minor inconvenience of massive inconsistency."

Growing awareness of this inconsistency makes it difficult to dismiss the technology out of hand.

Nuclear power has already won some powerful allies in the environmental community. Fred Krupp of Environmental Defense says, "We should all keep an open mind about nuclear power." Jared Diamond, best-selling author of Collapse, says, "To deal with our energy problems we need everything available to us, including nuclear power," which should be "done carefully, like they do in France, where there have been no accidents."

To which Stewart Brand, another apostate green who founded The Whole Earth Catalog and Whole Earth Review, adds, "The only technology ready to fill the gap and stop the carbon dioxide loading of the atmosphere is nuclear power." James Lovelock, originator of the Gaia theory about the planet's self-regulating systems, has called for, to quote The Independent, "a massive and immediate expansion of nuclear power." Actor Paul Newman visited New York's Indian Point plant and praised its climate role. In many cases, these environmentalists see nuclear as only a temporary fix.

There's no questioning the credentials of these environmental leaders, but other nuclear cheerleaders are suspect. For instance, Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore has been widely quoted supporting nukes, but he left Greenpeace many years ago, turned 180 degrees, and has supported many anti-environmental initiatives. He is now the co-chair (with former Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Christine Todd Whitman) of an industry-funded initiative called the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition. Not all the newspapers and magazines printing his commentaries have noted that he's on the payroll.

The industry is moving ahead with its attempt to revive commercial nuclear power, but it's unlikely to happen quickly. Dave Christian of Dominion says that although 30 new nuclear power plant licenses are pending, the first of these probably won't be online until 2015 or 2016. "The success of the industry moving forward depends on how these first units work out," he says.

Christian acknowledges that the chance of some of those license applications succeeding is only five percent. "They're taking a leap of faith," he says. It may be that the funding issue alone derails the nuclear push: A Standard and Poor's report last year priced nuclear at $1,500 per kilowatt -- twice the cost of a new coal plant. And cost overruns, it said, "are highly probable." The base price for a plant is $3 billion today.

Most of the proposed new nuclear stations are in the Southeast, and (partly to minimize local antagonism) most are on the site of existing units.

Targeting the South

Entergy Nuclear operates New York's Indian Point as well as nine other stations. At a recent press conference, Steve Melancon of Entergy stood in front of a PowerPoint map of the U.S. dotted with proposed new plants: in New York, North Carolina, Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi and Virginia.

According to Melancon, Entergy, in conjunction with eight other utilities, has settled on two existing locations to apply for combined construction and operating licenses: Grand Gulf, near Port Gibson, Mississippi and Bellefonte, near Scottsboro, Alabama. Actual operations would not begin until at least 2014.

It's not surprising that Port Gibson (spared by Ulysses S. Grant during the Civil War because it was "too beautiful to burn") is 80 percent African-American, rural and something less than affluent, with a third of the population living below the poverty line. And it's also not surprising that some city residents welcome the revenue it brings to an otherwise impoverished community.

Moft Headley II, who is both a former Port Gibson county supervisor and the father of a current one, says that the Grand Gulf nuclear plant has been a "good neighbor" that has "made it possible for the county to do some positive things it otherwise couldn't have done," including fixing up a building on Main Street and constructing a new library. "We're hoping we get the new plant," says Headley, "because the few industries we had around here have all dried up. We don't worry about safety too much because we've never had any plant accidents."

Jared Diamond, best-selling author of Collapse, says, "To deal with our energy problems we need everything available to us, including nuclear power," There's no constant in nuclear plant sitings. Scottsboro, Alabama, site of the famous 1931 "Scottsboro Boys" case is today an almost exclusively white community with a median family income of $42,000.

It has never tasted revenues from nuclear power, and local officials seem primed by the prospects of 400 permanent jobs and 2,000 construction positions. "Many of us grew up watching that plant get built, so we're excited about finally seeing it operate," Goodrich Rogers, president of the Jackson County Economic Development Authority, told Greenwire.

The Cost of Nukes

There are 103 operating nuclear reactors in 31 states, capable of producing 100 gigawatts, or some 20 percent of U.S. power needs. Dominion's Christian says many of these plants are aging, and if we let them retire after 60 years, they'd have to be replaced with an annual input of 3.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas or 200 million tons of coal. Replacing nukes is also an issue for the activists who want to shut down the two reactors at the Indian Point nuclear power station in New York. Of similar size to Millstone, Indian Point generates 2,000 megawatts of electricity -- enough to power two million homes.

Calling for a shutdown, increasingly vocal Westchester County residents hired a consultant to prepare a feasibility study, and Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) commissioned a National Academy of Sciences report on the subject, which was released last year. It concluded that replacing Indian Point was feasible, in part by "repowering" existing coal or fuel-oil plants to run on cleaner fuels such as natural gas. But it could cost $3 billion, says Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano.

Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore has been widely quoted supporting nukes, but he left Greenpeace many years ago, turned 180 degrees, and has supported many anti-environmental initiatives. Meanwhile, Indian Point has hardly been making a good case for its continued existence. After a transformer fire early last spring forced it to shut down for the second time in a week, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) downgraded its safety assessment.

Is nuclear power cheap? The industry likes to cite a figure of 1.72 cents per kilowatt-hour, cheaper than climate-aggravating coal. But Michael Levi, a fellow for science and technology at the Council on Foreign Relations, calls this "a specious claim" because it "ignores the capital costs." Including these expenses, an influential Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) report entitled "The Future of Nuclear Power" prices nuclear at 6.7 cents per kilowatt-hour, markedly more expensive than coal at 4.2 cents.

The MIT report, released in 2003, says that nuclear power "is not now cost competitive with coal and natural gas," but it concludes that nukes "could be one option for reducing carbon emissions." However, the industry's "stagnation and decline" makes that unlikely.

Taking the Scare Out

To get the public to accept a major expansion of nuclear power, the industry will have to convince Americans terrified by the specter of Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and intentional terrorism-related sabotage. Don Miley, a pro-nuclear spokesman for the Idaho National Laboratory (INL), stood on a hotel patio in downtown Idaho City and, before an audience of horrified reporters, knowingly exposed himself to radiation. Miley was exposing himself to Coleman lantern mantles, "Fiesta" dinnerware, and an old "Exit" sign -- all made with radioactive materials.

It was cheap theatrics, but each item set off a Geiger counter. On average, Miley said, Americans receive 360 millirems of naturally occurring radiation per year, just from the sun, rocks and soil. If you're an airline pilot, it goes up to about 1,000 millirems. A smoker gets 1,300 with or without a frequent flyer card. In 14 years working at INL, close to a nuclear reactor, Miley says he's been dosed with only 13 millirems of extra radiation. In one trip to the dentist, he adds, he took in 150 millirems.

Hours later, the delegation was taken inside INL's Advanced Test Reactor, the largest of its kind in the world, and looked down into 20 feet of cool, rippling water, below which lay highly radioactive nuclear fuel rods that could kill in an instant. When Miley was asked if he'd take a swim in this deceptively attractive cooling pond, he offered to don his trunks.

Back in Connecticut, Dominion spokesman Pete Hyde stopped at a padlock-protected fence and pointed across to an unassuming concrete bunker. This was the site of Millstone's dry-cask nuclear storage, what the company calls an "interim measure" until long-delayed federal storage options are available.

The steel-reinforced bunker has five-foot-thick walls. Some 32 highly radioactive spent fuel rods are loaded into a 40-ton steel canister and stored horizontally in the bunker. As many as 135 of these canisters can be stored on site, so Millstone is not likely to run out of storage space soon.

The obvious question, however, is whether these on-site storage facilities are vulnerable to determined terrorist attacks. Hyde says computer simulations show no breach of the fuel (and only an inch of movement in the concrete) when an engine from a commercial airliner hits the bunker at 600 miles per hour.

That may sound reassuring, but a federal National Academies of Science report released in 2005 argued that a high-temperature fire caused by the loss of cooling water in a spent fuel pool could release large amounts of radiation. The report found that dry cask storage of the type found at Millstone is safer, in part because the fuel rods are stored separately.

Meanwhile, plans to relocate America's nuclear plant waste to a secure federal site at Yucca Mountain in Nevada are slowly inching forward. The facility is designed to house 77,000 tons of nuclear waste, including the 50,000 tons already waiting for storage at reactor sites in dozens of states. The project director, Edward Sproat, said that a 2017 start date is now unlikely, and that the waste facility may never be built without increased Congressional funding.

The current plan is to transport the waste to Yucca Mountain, stored in reinforced casks, by truck and rail through 43 states. The watchdog group Public Citizen says this plan would put the waste "within half a mile of 50 million people." And it adds that "more waste would be shipped in the first year alone than has been shipped in the U.S. in the past three decades."

These facts led an increasingly skeptical Atlanta Constitution to write, "[W]orldwide, it would take some 2,000 new nuclear power plants, at a cost of over $1 trillion, to make a dent in greenhouse gas emissions. Those plants would require a new Yucca Mountain-sized repository every few years to store the tidal wave of highly radioactive nuclear waste. With no answer to its radioactive nuclear waste, it is clear that nuclear energy will not be the answer to global warming."

Federal Incentives

The renaissance of nuclear power benefits from significant federal incentives. Vice President Cheney's energy task force in 2001 called for the construction of 1,300 to 1,900 new power plants, many of them nukes, and since then the Bush administration has done what it can to stimulate new construction and licensing.

The administration's energy legislation, enacted in 2005, contains billions of federal dollars for nuclear tax breaks and loan guarantees. A Public Citizen analysis says these incentives add up to $10.1 billion, including $5.7 billion in production tax credits ($18 per megawatt-hour of new generation, up to 6,000 megawatts). The loan guarantees mean that the public could subsidize as much as 80 percent of new reactor costs, the group said.

"There is a tsunami of new nuclear plant applications," says Dr. Harold McFarlane, president of the American Nuclear Society. The revival is coming after so many years of inactivity that McFarlane notes there are now fewer than 200 nuclear-qualified welders in the U.S.

Still, the industry is forging ahead, aided by an administration determined to streamline the licensing process. Hoping to avoid the debacle, common in the nuclear-phobic 1970s, of fully built plants unable to begin operations, the industry is now seeking to receive both construction and operating permits before it puts the first spade in the ground.

The Mixed Picture

Around the world, the nuclear picture is mixed. Six U.S. reactors have closed since 1996, and seven in Canada are unlikely to operate again. Although a large 10,000-megawatt plant is slated to begin construction in India next year, other countries -- including Germany and Sweden -- have been working on formal phase-outs of the technology. But even there the future is uncertain.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called the phase-out of the country's 17 plants (which produce a third of German electricity) by 2020 "disastrous," and some are worried that replacing the nukes with coal or natural gas plants could make it difficult to meet the provisions of the Kyoto Treaty.

The Netherlands, Belgium and Spain have agreed not to build any more plants. (Switzerland, by contrast, failed to renew its nuclear ban in a 2003 referendum.) Nuclear programs in Eastern Europe, South Korea and Japan have slowed pace, but in other countries the technology is going strong. France has 59 reactors generating more than three quarters of the country's power. Pakistan, Egypt, Finland and Iran each hope to build nuclear power plants, and China plans to increase nuclear capacity.

Nuclear power supplied about 17 percent of the world's needs in 2002. According to researchers at MIT, global energy demand could grow by 75 percent by 2020. Anti-nuclear activists are deeply worried that public apathy in the 18 years since the devastating Chernobyl meltdown will allow the emergence of a dangerous and radioactive new world.

An Unacceptable Risk?

In spite of its obvious benefits, nuclear power may simply be too risky. Opponents of the nuclear renaissance point to a host of serious concerns. "They're proposing a replay of a demonstrated failure," says Paul Gunter, director of the reactor watchdog project at the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS). "The financial risks have only gotten worse, and our concerns about safety issues are heightened now that these plants are known terrorist targets."

Alex Matthiessen, director of Hudson Riverkeeper, declares, "In the post-9/11 era, nuclear power plants pose an unacceptable risk." He points out that NRC studies conclude that a serious accident at one of Indian Point's two working reactors could cause 50,000 early fatalities.

Al Qaeda operatives have, by their own admission, considered attacking nuclear facilities. And according to Riverkeeper, only 19 percent of Indian Point guards think they can protect the facility from a conventional assault, let alone a suicidal mission.

Riverkeeper says that the proposed evacuation plans for the area are woefully inadequate, and the site is vulnerable to an airborne attack. Plant operator Entergy refutes these charges, and says that the 3.5-foot steel-reinforced concrete containment structures protecting the reactor and other radioactive materials are "among the strongest structures built by man."

The U.S. nuclear industry has avoided serious accidents since the near-catastrophic accident at Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island plant in 1979. But there have been near-misses. In March 2002, workers repairing a cracked nozzle at the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station in Ohio discovered a football-sized cavity in the reactor. Because of corrosion, all that was holding back the 2,400-pounds per square inch (psi) pressure of the core was a bulging stainless steel liner approximately 3/16th of an inch thick. If the liner had failed, a loss-of-coolant accident similar to Three Mile Island would have occurred.

Millstone also had its share of troubles before Dominion bought it in 2001. In the mid-1990s, the four nuclear power plants run by then-owner Northeast Utilities were cited for more than 100 safety violations in two years. In late 2000, Millstone reported two lost fuel rods. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) says, "The [NRC] must stop allowing plant owners to conduct fewer inspections and to defer inspections for economic reasons."

More recently, in July of 2006, the Forsmark nuclear reactor 1 on Sweden's east coast experienced a short circuit and went into emergency shutdown. Two of four emergency-cooling diesel engines did not start as expected, disabling control room operations -- and thus human control -- for a critical 23 minutes. According to the German magazine Der Spiegel, "For critics, the incident shows yet again how vulnerable nuclear power plants are to a failure in electricity systems."

In early April of this year, operators of the Vogtle Nuclear Plant near Augusta, Georgia received low marks for their response to a simulated nuclear accident. The NRC judged that the emergency director had "overdiagnosed" the problem (a pump shaft breakage that caused metal parts to fall into the reactor coolant system) and gave the plant a "poor" grade.

Nuclear defenders point out that these are the problems of aging Generation II plants, and the new Generation IV units will have many safety and efficiency advantages. Pebble bed reactors, for instance, are now in the planning stages in China and South Africa, and supporters say a meltdown is nearly impossible with that design. Pebble beds simplify waste storage and can be built quickly, they say, without the crippling cost overruns.

Economists question if the technology is cost-effective. The U.S. Energy Information Administration has stated that even if next-generation nuclear plants can be built efficiently, their costs are likely to be two to four times greater than building natural gas, coal or wind plants.

Both the Congressional Budget Office and the private firm Standard and Poor's concluded that investing in loans to build nuclear power plants is an unwise risk. A host of insurance analysts have come to the same conclusion. The last American nuclear power plant to go online, the Tennessee Valley Authority's Watts Bar, fired up in 1996 after 23 years of construction and billions of dollars of over-budget spending.

A Renaissance under Fire

In its 2003 study, "The Future of Nuclear Power," MIT researchers concluded that some 1,000 to 1,500 new reactors would have to be built worldwide by 2025 in order to put a serious dent in global warming. There are only 400 atomic power plants online now, and any major expansion would meet a host of economic, political, security and NIMBY ("not-in-my-backyard") challenges.

Because of planned plant retirements, the industry will have to work hard simply to keep up current nuclear capacity, let alone ramp it up to offset global warming. Current projections by the U.S. Energy Information Industry show very little nuclear growth by 2030.

The uranium supply is also an issue. On the spot market, uranium prices have soared as existing reactors have worked through supplies from mothballed plants. Demand is projected to exceed supply and push prices higher. The shortfall in uranium mining can be at least partly made up in uranium enrichment (an outgrowth of atomic bomb development), but capacity is limited there, too.

Uranium enrichment also aggravates both global warming and ozone depletion. The single remaining uranium enrichment plant in the U.S., Paducah Gaseous Diffusion in Kentucky, emits highly destructive chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), used to dissipate heat generated by the compressors. And the plant is fired by two large, extremely dirty coal power plants.

Although nukes avoid the smokestack problem, the nuclear process is not emission-free. The cycle from uranium mining to milling and processing, as well as waste storage and transportation, all involve greenhouse gas emissions.

In his book Insurmountable Risks: The Dangers of Using Nuclear Power to Combat Global Climate Change (IEER Press), Brice Smith admits that, when compared to fossil fuels, nuclear power emits far lower levels of greenhouse gases, even when mining, enrichment and fuel fabrication are taken into account.

But to effectively challenge the global warming problem, he says, a new reactor would have to come online somewhere in the world every 15 days on average between 2010 and 2050. Even with this growth, he calculates that the proportion of electricity coming from nuclear sources would grow only slightly, from 16 to 20 percent over the period.

Also, says Smith, a huge nuclear expansion would increase the dangers of nuclear proliferation. The world's capacity to enrich uranium would have to go up dramatically by a factor of 2.5 to six. A dozen new enrichment plants would produce thousands of tons of highly deadly plutonium each year. And just one percent of that capacity would be enough to support the construction of 210 nuclear weapons per year.

NIRS argues that, in the next 60 years, the industry is capable of building only half the 1,500 new reactors needed to significantly offset global warming, and that the enormous construction costs -- estimated in the many trillions of dollars -- would be much more effectively spent on renewable energy projects.

"Even under an ambitious deployment scenario, new plants could not make a substantial contribution to reducing U.S. global warming emissions for at least two decades," says the Union of Concerned Scientists.


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